From the Unknowing to the Sexualised Subject: The Development of Childhood Sexuality within the Modernist Era through the works of Henry James, Anais Nin, and Vladimir Nabokov.
Jackson, S. (2016). From the Unknowing to the Sexualised Subject: The Development of Childhood Sexuality within the Modernist Era through the works of Henry James, Anais Nin, and Vladimir Nabokov. (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/10739
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/10739
Through the works of Henry James, Anais Nin and Vladimir Nabokov, this project shows how the modernist child develops from the unknowing to the sexualised subject. It begins with Henry James’s proto-modernist conceptualisation of children as unknowable: childhood cannot be represented with any certainty because children lack the means to represent themselves. They are objects within discourse, but, in James, their status as subjects is epistemologically ambiguous. This unknowable child foreshadows the modernist reimagining of childhood sexuality. Chapter Two turns to Anais Nin, whose relationship to Freudian psychoanalysis underscores her vision of childhood. She articulates that vision through a series of short stories in which childhood becomes increasingly estranged from the familiar symbol of innocence, and trends toward its perverse sexualisation. Chapter Three demonstrates the dangers of childhood as a blank conceptual space in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. In her departure from innocence, the late modernist child find herself re-embodied as a sexual fantasy for the adult gaze. This thesis considers representations of childhood that treat children as conceptual spaces rather than as human subjects. The narrative production of silent children who present no challenge to the imposition of adult desire simultaneously produces adults with an unchecked prerogative to inform the terms of childhood. The premise of the sexualized child was then, as it is now, an alarming cultural force.
University of Waikato
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